The gig economy has been on the rise for several years, and many reports point to a continued trend in American workers taking on both side gigs and cobbling together a living from a hodgepodge of short-term work or longer-term contracted jobs.
Findings from Adobe revealed that as many as one-third of the 1,000 U.S. office workers they polled had a second job and more than half (56%) predicted we would all have multiple jobs in the future. The annual report from Upwork and the Freelancers Union found that more people than ever are choosing to freelance, up to 55 million this year, or 35% of the total U.S. workforce. As many as 81% of traditional workers they surveyed said they would “be willing to do additional work outside of [their] primary job if it was available and enabled [them] to make more money.”
Faith Popcorn, CEO and founder of Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve, tells Fast Company not to overlook the impact millennials will have on the gig economy. The largest cohort in the workforce “inherited a bad economy, have little prospect of home ownership, and come bearing deep college debt,” Popcorn says, so “the idea of one career seems increasingly untenable.” She believes that automation and AI will only accelerate the rise of gigging. “Ironically, automations like self-driving cars will eliminate some jobs (i.e., driving for Uber), and give way to new forms of gigging yet undiscovered,” she says.
We asked a variety of experts what they thought would happen to gigging in 2017. Here’s what they told us.
Jim Barnett, CEO of Glint, a maker of employee engagement software, says the shift toward independent contractors and contingent workers will trigger equally seismic shifts in HR technology.
For employers, Barnett says, on-demand hiring lowers costs and creates more competition for talent while traditional workers’ career paths are phasing out and being replaced with temporary jobs focused on skill (versus career) development. “Traditional metrics will need to be tweaked in order to properly measure these workers in terms of engagement and retention,” he says. “This will require significant gains in speed and agility in order to quickly identify work/projects in need of attention, source employees with the required skills, and staff project teams that can quickly perform the necessary task.”
Shaun Ritchie, CEO and cofounder of Teem meeting software and analytics, believes that this is the year VR is going to change the way the workplace collaborates. “In-office employees and remote or gig workers will be able to connect like never before via video and telepresence,” says Ritchie. And he predicts, “VR will be used to accommodate the evolving definition of “employee” to include both workers in conference rooms and gig workers contributing remotely.”
Sanjay Sathe, CEO of career coaching platform RiseSmart, sees gigging evolving out of traditional roles. “Where freelancing was most often thought of for creative work (editors, graphic designers, web designers) and contracting was thought of for IT-related positions (programmers, project managers), the gig economy has begun to encompass all types of roles,” he explains, including senior-level executive positions in career paths such as finance, accounting, and IT.
Sathe believes that making space for gig work across an organization will make it more agile and responsive to the market: “While 67% of companies do presently limit the number of these types of positions, according to 2016 Workforce for the Future Survey, having gig positions means they are able to onboard new talent and off-board unneeded skills without the burden of employment taxes and paperwork.”
Agility comes from being able to hire professionals faster for gigs because, Sathe notes, it requires fewer approvals from various internal managers and HR. “It is often a decision made quickly and without posting as a traditional job might be advertised,” he adds. Sathe observes that this can works in favor of the candidate, “as long as the candidates are agile enough to meet to varying demands of companies and are responsive when they receive inquiries about these gig positions.”
Stacey Engle, executive vice president at Fierce, a global leadership development firm, says that employers can start by using the idea of the gig economy inside of companies. “For example, providing opportunities for employees to choose assignments in different areas,” she notes.
Companies facing an in-house shortage of skills will increase their reliance on “networked” professional service firms to efficiently source specialized independent talent to tackle a number of business challenges, according to Gregg Fisher, managing partner at The Stem, a consultancy specializing in customer engagement and digital transformation.
Fisher says several “networked” professional services firms made up of independent consultants possessing highly specialized skills have come to market in recent years. “A notable example was PWC’s decision to launch its Talent Exchange to match independent consultants to client projects,” he says.
Such firms provide management consulting, marketing, research, and creative services to industries including pharma and life sciences, among others. “These firms have gained traction as a result of their business model, which offers clients efficient, on-demand access to expertise, which they don’t possess in-house,” he notes.
The number of senior-level independent consultants will continue to grow and fill out these networks, says Fisher, because of limited job security and changing attitudes toward work. “An increase in the number of in-house professionals with fragmented skill-sets as a result of technological change will increase pressure on companies to tap into highly specialized talent that has chose to operate in the independent consulting marketplace instead of at traditional firms,” he explains. For example, says Fisher, “Merck turned to networked consultancies like The Stem to provide a wide variety of digital skill sets to support their ongoing digital transformations.”
Popcorn says these shifts will have the greatest impact on millennials, creating something she calls the “Living in the Blur” paradigm. “It’s a tech-enabled, nomadic existence in which there’s a constant mix of business and pleasure; where traveling for a job is no problem in a Sharing Economy; where professional and creative passions are pursued one moment, and the next, one is all but an automaton, tackling Mechanical Turk tagging projects,” she says. “These contradictions will cohabitate as we deal with the economic and industrial fallout of a quickly morphing society.”